Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ecuador: Defense Minister resigns in midst of a gays in the military controversy

Last Thursday, Ecuadorian Defense Minister Lorena Escudero submitted her resignation to President Rafael Correa after seven months of serving as the woman in charge of the country's military forces.

The 40 year old woman, the second in the history of Ecuador to serve as Defense Minister, had recently become entangled in a debate over allowing gays in the military.

The hornet's nest first exploded earlier in the week when she announced on August 28th that Ecuador would ban the expulsion of gays from the country's Armed Forces or from the police and that her office would soon unveil changes to current regulations that would make the new policies official.

The Defense Minister made it clear that this did not mean that those who were openly gay could serve in the military - the measures would only cover those in service whose sexual orientation became known after joining the military - and that it was not an invitation for gays to serve in the military but that the office simply was following a constitutional decree against discrimination.

"The issue of allowing [gays] to serve is a little more complicated, delicate, and has to be a process of consensus," said Escudero to Teleamazonas as picked up by El Universo, "we still do not have criteria on the issue."

The measure came as part of an effort to modernize the Ecuadorean military which also included steps to end mandatory draft policies as well as giving members of the military the right to vote in political elections.

By Tuesday evening, August 28th, as reported by CRE, she was already on the defensive over reports that President Correa had endorsed allowing gays to serve in the military and told Teleamazonas that the President had done no such thing aside from affirming every citizen's right to equal treatment under the constitution. She warned journalists against propagating the type of "rumors" that sought to damage the image of the institution of the Armed Forces.

On Friday, El Comercio announced that the Defense Ministry had convened a committee made up of members of the Armed Forces to study whether current norms discriminated against gays and that lifting a prohibition against gays in the military would be among the issues that would be considered.

Escudero's resignation came later that same day.

According to Paraguay's ABC, Escudero did not give a reason for her resignation in the letter she submitted to Correa but indicated she might return to serve in the Correa government under a different post (she has since taken over the government's Migrant Office). The paper said that there were rumors that her resignation came after the higher commands expressed strong opposition to the announcement that her office would seek to ban the expulsion of gays from military ranks.

By Friday evening, according to El Mercurio, the government announced that Wellington Sandoval, a doctor, would become the new Defense Minister.

On Tuesday, according to El Universo, Sandoval said that he would offer "continuity" to the various projects begun by Escudero. The paper, alas, does not mention if he also would institute measures to ban the expulsion of gays in the military.

But also on Tuesday, in a radio interview, Sandoval said that he did not intend to "politicize" the Armed Forces and that the President had nominated him to the post knowing he was not a professional politician.

NOTE: Victor Maldonado of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has picked up on this post and added some insights.

No comments: